A thousand points of lubrication

June 18, 2012
Paper mill finds cost savings and machine condition improvements through lubrication management.

In brief:

  • Each lubrication point can have multiple tasks, all performed at differing intervals.
  • To address this issue, many plants utilize spreadsheets or maintenance-management systems or enterprise systems in an effort to manage lubrication.
  • Being able to put down all the detailed, documented information in one place that is easily accessible can be a tremendous benefit.

Lubrication is often viewed as nothing more than a quick series of simple, repetitive tasks, such as hitting a grease point or topping off a reservoir. However, a single plant will have hundreds to thousands of pieces of equipment, each having multiple lubrication points. In turn, each lubrication point can have multiple tasks, all performed at differing intervals. From daily lubing to semi-annual oil sampling and on to yearly tank draining/replacement, the total of lubrication tasks to perform can surprisingly number into the hundreds of thousands annually.

To address this issue, many plants utilize spreadsheets or maintenance-management systems or enterprise systems in an effort to manage lubrication. Unfortunately, although they work very well for managing PM and corrective jobs at the equipment level, they are not built for detailed tracking of individual lube tasks.

Yet the information contained in these details, when properly structured to the specifics of lubrication, enables best practices to improve machine condition, extend life, and uptime, identify equipment issues proactively, and boost employee productivity, all in a manner both experienced and inexperienced personnel can easily follow.

With the volume of activities that need to be performed and the complexity of managing all these different types of activities with different lubricants, time frames, and procedures, we have to be able to store and easily access detailed information on each lube point. NewPage is the leading producer of printing and specialty papers in North America, with a total annual mill production capacity of about 3.5 million tons of paper.

I oversee all aspects of lubrication, including lube tasks, inventory, and testing for our mill’s paper machine. Along with 25 years of experience, I’ve continued my education, and I’m certified as a machinery lubricant technician (MLT) and machinery lubricant analyst (MLA).


When I started in lubrication, I immediately realized the benefit of handling all the lubrication tasks on time and getting the right amount of grease into the right place every time to increase the longevity and reliability of our equipment. A number of years ago, my manager decided it was time for the Duluth plant to upgrade to comprehensive lubrication tracking and management software. After investigating several options on the market, we selected Lube-It software from Generation Systems (www.generationsystems.com).

With Lube-It, each lube point is inventoried as to component type, location, capacity, and number of fittings. We also can log the lubricant that needs to be used. Each lube point is then associated with the individual tasks required. Details for each task include the activity to perform, frequency, duration of each task, route, procedures, and shutdown requirements.

Using this essential information, the software continuously manages lubrication throughout the plant by tracking the status of each individual task. Each week the system’s automatic work planning process evaluates every task, individually releasing only those that are appropriate. Tasks not previously completed are highlighted as past due and included within the current week’s work.

The advantage of this approach is to reinforce a culture of excellence and to protect the accumulated knowledge and best practices of the lubrication program at NewPage’s Duluth plant, instead of reliance on human memory.

With all of these details documented in the system, plant personnel and management also have one click access to the history of any lubrication point, which can be invaluable for failure analysis. This includes when individual tasks were completed, a reason if not completed, the number of weeks past due, who was assigned, the lubricant used, and notifications of equipment issues identified during the lubrication activity.

Optimized lubrication routes are another benefit of having detailed lube-point information and can dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of maintenance. Using the information in the system, the program sets up a labor-efficient, step-reducing route from a start to an end point assigned to specific personnel. Each lube task along that path, incorporating all tasks due to be completed regardless of frequency, and the various types of lubricants that will be required are outlined in a logical walking sequence.

You can move from a pump to an agitator to a hydraulic system all in walking sequence with detail information on each lube point on the route, and which lubricant is required. The routing feature is useful to remind of tasks that are required less frequently, such as semi-annual or annual lubrication activities. The routing system is so efficient that basic care tasks not related to lubrication, such as cleaning a piece of equipment or adjusting a shim along the route, are often incorporated.

Tammy Needham is machinery lubrication technician at the Newpage plant in Duluth, Minnesota. Contact her at [email protected] or (218) 628-5167

Although many lubrication tasks might have minimal safety implications, some can have very serious implications if proper procedures are not followed. Safety related procedures and requirements can be associated with a specific task and clearly presented to personnel prior to performing the task. If there is a safety procedure that needs to occur before the lube task, a technician can look at the sheet and see exactly what steps needs to occur first. I want to make sure that nobody is going to get hurt.

NewPage management now has access to detailed reports and KPI information relating to the lubrication effort that it never had before. The feedback I’ve received from management has been extremely positive. Although I’ve been working with Lube-It for more than a decade, the capabilities and detail in the program have dovetailed nicely with NewPage’s recent corporate initiative to improve efficiency and equipment reliability in all of its seven plants.

There has been a big push lately to really get everything documented. Management felt that, by really looking closely at the lubrication aspect of all its plants, we could discover some cost savings and ensure the equipment lasts longer. We were able to accomplish many of our lubrication goals because of the support we received from management.

Being able to put down all this detailed, documented information in one place that was easily accessible is a tremendous benefit to our company. It is so foundational to our entire lubrication effort that I don’t believe you could put a price tag on it.

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